Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Medieval Peasant

Last week I was in Sussex for 'A Medieval Experience Day' at the Weald and Downland Museum - always one of my favourite places to visit. It wasn't quite what I expected as I'd thought we'd go through a fairly typical day in the life of a medieval peasant from getting up to going to bed. It wasn't quite like that but it still was very enjoyable and interesting. Later in the day we got chance to dress in period clothing which was probably my favourite bit - I just love dressing up:) The costume is absolutely authentic being hand sewn and using the same fabric that would have been available in the medieval period. The belt is a cord woven on a lucet and threaded on to the belt is my knife in a leather scabbard and a cloth pouch which would contain various personal bits and pieces. They aren't visible in the photo but I'm also wearing a pair of black leather boots.

I'm standing in the doorway of 'my' cottage which is actually Hangleton, a reconstruction based on archaeological evidence from a 13th century flint cottage in the deserted medieval Sussex village of that name. A home like this would have made me a fairly well off peasant, the poor would simply have lived in hovels made of sticks, straw and mud.

This is the back wall of the main room showing the window, you can see how small it is. Since there was no glass in those days (unless you were extremely wealthy) it would have been very draughty indeed in the cold weather even with the wooden shutter closed. Hangleton only has two windows, this one and one in the small inner room. You can imagine how dark it is inside even on a summer's day.

This is the small inner room and on the right you can just see the corner of the bread oven.

The bread oven which is really rather large for such a small cottage. Our tutor thought that it would probably be used to bake bread and pies for other villagers who had no oven of their own.

The main room has an open hearth where all the cooking was done and it was also the only source of heat. It was also the source of a great deal of smoke! You do get used to it after a while and in fact if you are crouching on the floor it's less smoky than when you are standing up. You can see the various cooking pots around the edge of the fire. There were seven of us on the course and between us we made Fish in a Coffin with Lumbard Mustard Sauce, Sowpys Dorry, Herb Fritters, A Cheese Pottage and Poor Mens Wardens in Syrup. The 'coffin' in case you're wondering is a paste of flour and water used to encase the fish while it cooks. It wasn't eaten except probably by the family pig.

Lunch is served! It doesn't look especially appetizing but looks can be deceiving. The fish in a coffin is on the right and you can see the thick brown pastry crust which has been broken open to reveal the fish stuffed with herbs which was really delicious. The mustard sauce is in the bowl at the side of it.

Anyone for Sowpys Dorry? This doesn't look too great either does it? Actually it's a sort of white onion soup made with almond milk and served over toasted bread (the sowpys or sops - as in sops in wine). I can assure you that it tasted a whole lot better than it looks:)

This is one of the dishes that I was involved in making - the cheese pottage. Again it looks less than appealing and I wasn't over anxious to taste it. However having helped make I thought it would look bad if I didn't:):) It was fantastic! So good that I'm planning to make it in the winter as a breakfast dish. Here's the recipe:

120gm cracked wheat (bulgur wheat)
375gm ricotta cheese( or any soft curd cheese)
60gm honey
1 egg

Place cracked wheat in a bowl and add just enough water to cover it Leave to soak for 10-15 minutes. When soft drain away any remaining water and add the cheese, honey and beaten egg. Bring slowly to boiling point but don't let it actually boil. Simmer for 10 minutes stirring regularly until it's a porridge consistency. Serve immediately with extra honey if you like.

Here we have the Poor Mens Wardens in Syrup. Wardens are a very ancient variety of hard cooking pear that were used to make Warden pie which I gather was a great favourite of Elizabeth I. These were cooked in cider, honey and a spot of cider vinegar with caraway and sweet cicely. They hadn't been poached quite long enough but would have been really nice if the pears had been softer. I might give this a try at some point too.

This basket contains both wool and linen which has been dyed using natural plant materials. Most people have the impression that medieval people lived in a sort of brown and grey world but nothing could be further from the truth. The colours that can be obtained from very ordinary plants such as nettles, woad and onion skins are really lovely. In the afternoon we were able to try our hand at some of the crafts that most women would have been expert at as they would have been taught by their mother from childhood. Spinning with a drop spindle is something that will need a good deal more practise on my part! Lucet weaving I've done before and can manage to make a reasonable job of. The weaving I didn't even attempt! It was a really enjoyable day and a nice group of people to work with too. As well as the practical part we learned something about medieval history too which is something I shall probably read more about during the long dark nights to come.

As I walked back I passed these wonderful teasels in the garden of Poplar Cottage.

I couldn't resist a quick look inside as well. Poplar is a 17th century labourer's cottage.
I'm going back to Sussex in September for a course on hedgerow preserves and I plan to spend some time looking round the rest of the Museum then. I've done posts on the Weald and Downland Museum in the past, for anyone interested just click on 'Weald and Downland' in the labels on my sidebar - there are posts on Tudor cooking and herbs.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Finishing Some UFOs

This is just a short post to help me get back into the swing of blogging - since rain is forecast for tomorrow I'm also planning to spend a good deal of time catching up on my commenting as I've been very bad about doing this recently. The one thing I've managed to achieve while the Olympics has been on is to actually do something with various bits of cross-stitch. Above is a sampler that I finished in 2009 which has been languishing in a drawer ever since. It is now at the framers and hopefully will be decorating one of our walls soon.

I found this piece of stitching inside a book of cross stitch patterns when I was looking for something else. This has to be at least four years old! I've made it into a pin cushion backed with a lovely shade of green felt.

This Tudor Rose is more recent, probably only 12 months old:) I've just made it into a little summer bowl filler though it's currently propped up against a photograph frame.

I've only just done this, it's another little bowl filler ready for autumn decorating. It's becoming apparent to me as I look at these photos that I need to take more care about squaring off these little items!!

Final one is another recent finish - an autumn pinkeep also ready for when I put out all my autumnal bits and pieces.

I do have various posts I want to do during the next week or two catching up on some summer activities. They'll be out of date but at least they'll be done. I'm happy to say that I'm feeling more in the right frame of mind for blogging again now:)

Monday, August 06, 2012

Jessica's Post Box!

I really like Royal Mail's idea of celebrating our Olympic Gold Medal winners by painting a post box gold in their home town. I was in Sheffield this morning and took this photo of the post box near the City Hall painted gold in honour of Jessica Ennis's fantastic heptathlon win. She actually went to the same school as my children though a good many years after them. I think she is a brilliant ambassador for British sport, a thoroughly nice girl as well as hugely talented. Well done Jess!

Thank you for all the good wishes on my wedding anniversary:) Once the Olympics are over I shall be back posting again on a regular basis. At the moment in between watching all the events I'm trying to sort my garden out a bit as well as going to my daughter's house twice a day to feed George Cat while she suns herself in the South of France:) It's not like me to be glued to the television but it's great to see Team GB doing so well and the Games as a whole seem to be a resounding success. It's so good to have so much positive news instead of the daily doom and gloom that is usually in the media. Has anyone else ever noticed that as far as the media are concerned the news consists entirely of negative things? Yet how much better we all feel about ourselves and life in general when there is happy, upbeat reporting. I know a lot of dreadful things happen in the world but a lot of good things happen too and it would be good for everyone if we had a more balanced approach from the media. So here's to all the good things in life!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

It's Lughnasadh and....

.....guess what I was doing 40 years ago today?

DH and I were married in the little country church of St Thomas, Henbury in Cheshire on August 1st 1972. It was a lovely day (in all senses of the word) apart from a thunderstorm during the reception. We were indoors by then so it didn't matter:)

My two bridesmaids, Lesley in pink and Sandi in blue.

Lughnasadh is the festival that celebrates the beginning of the harvest season, from now on the crops of grain and fruit will be gathered in and stored against the long dark days of winter. It was always a time of fairs, markets and in ancient times there were great sporting contests held in honour of the god Lugh. We certainly have the sporting contests going on at present and I shall be spending the day at Bakewell Agricultural Show which is pretty appropriate as well.
I leave you with the old folk song of John Barleycorn which describes the life, death and resurrection of the grain.It tells the story of John Barleycorn, who was killed, buried, sprang up in the spring, grew stronger in the summer and grew weaker in the autumn. The barley harvest was the source of not only bread but also beer which was what everyone, including children, drank until quite recent times. During the brewing of beer the water is boiled and therefore sterilized making it safe to drink - more than could be said for most of the water that was available!

John Barleycorn

There were three men came out of the west,
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn must die.
They've ploughed, they've sowed, they've harrowed him in,
Throwed clods upon his head,
And these three men made a solemn vow,
John Barleycorn is dead.
They've let him lie for a long, long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall,
Then little Sir John popped up his head,
And soon amazed them all.
They've let him stand till midsummer day
when he looked both pale and wan,
And little Sir John's grown a long, long beard
And so become a man.

They've hired men with the scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee,
They rolled him and tied him by the waist,
And served him most barbarously.
They've hired men with the sharp pitchforks
Who pricked him to the heart,
And the loader he served him worse than that,
For he bound him to the cart.

They've wheeled him round and round the field
Till they came unto a barn,
And there they've made a solemn mow
of poor John Barleycorn.
They've hired men with the crab-tree sticks
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller he's served him worse than that,
For he's ground him between two stones.

Now, here's little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl,
And brandy in a glass;
And little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl
Proves the strongest man at last.
For the huntsman he can't hunt the fox,
Nor so loudly blow his horn,
And the tinker he can't mend kettles nor pots
Without a little Barleycorn.

The 'crab-tree sticks' are the flails used to thresh the grain and the 'nut brown bowl' is the wooden drinking vessel that would have been used by ordinary people in times gone by. Glass drinking vessels were expensive and would be used only by the wealthy. Happy Lughnasadh!